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Title: Conversion to Islam and family relations in contemporary Britain
Author: Ramahi, Dorothea Alexandra
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This dissertation explores the role of kinship relations in conversion to Islam in contemporary Britain. While the Pauline notion of conversion, which is a Christian concept, presupposes radical change brought on by an outer event, narratives of conversion to Islam convey a sense of continuity, where conversion happens as a natural, almost inconspicuous development of faith. The process of conversion is thus presented as a cumulative acquisition of knowledge, which is in line with one’s path in life up to that point, mirroring what I call ‘Islam’s autobiography’ in its presentation of Islam as the natural continuation of the former monotheisms. Instead, the realm of conflict as presented in narratives of conversion is the realm of family. ‘Coming out’ as Muslim vis-à-vis one’s family was perceived as an anxiety-filled and nerve-wracking process akin to those described in literature on gay kinship. The way in which Islam is positioned as ‘other’ within a Western, Muslim-minority context defines converts’ primary concern with a social re-positioning vis-à-vis their families, and society at large. Narrating continuity and presenting conversion in terms of rationalism helps the converts to position themselves as modern subjects, while mystical experiences and the narration of dreams are rarely revealed, despite their significance. The social re-positioning that conversion to Islam entails also demands a re-drawing of boundaries, which becomes apparent through the study of the material objects that are significant in conversion narratives, where items like food and clothing can not only be markers of difference but can also constitute sites of rejection or accommodation between the converts and their families. The project of ethical self-formation, which some converts engage in through embodied practices like ritual purification, has the side effect of drawing boundaries between the converts and their families, but also between the converts and their old selves, which can result in the ethical dilemma of living in an enduring dual ethical situation. I argue that, rather than focusing on inner re-orientation, conversion to Islam in contemporary Britain requires a model of conversion that privileges social re-positioning, particularly in relation to the family.
Supervisor: Anderson, Paul Sponsor: School of Arts and Humanities Centre of Islamic Studies
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Conversion ; Islam ; Kinship ; Family ; Narratives ; Techniques of the Self